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How to Make a Product Design Portfolio that Gets You Hired

party kazoo

Before we go in…you know the basics, right?

Lookin’ sharp? Cool. Now that the basics are covered, let’s move on.

  • Participate in a hackathon. Hackathons are great to pump out real work, as they are usually sprints that last only a few days. They’re typically for good causes too. A regular Google search will turn up results. You can also check sites like Eventbrite for hackathons near you.
  • Design an event microsite. These types of sites have a fast turnaround and tend to provide great design flexibility. Local annual events might be a good place to start.
  • Iterate on the UX or UI in an app that you’ve experienced a problem with. This is just short of a client project, but it’s a start if you’re in a pinch and want to start working immediately. Pick an app or website from an industry you’d want to do more work in.
  • Abstract the client and project. Let’s say you helped Target with UX in their mobile app, but you don’t have permission to use their name. You might say something like “I helped an S&P 500 retailer iterate on…” You can also remove or recreate identifying logos. Replace key text and information with new text you’re written, or even “lorem ipsum.” Replace all the images with stock images. Even updating the color palette to change things up might make it OK to show.
  • Get express permission. Contracts can be tricky. If you’re simply not sure what your contract will allow you to show, draft up what you want to display and send a copy to your client to get their express permission. This way there won’t be any confusion, and your client will thank you for checking with them first.
  • The basic details. Client name, project name, project year
  • The value proposition. What does the company, client, product, and/or service do? Before I started showing my work in case study format, I found this to be a common question. The takeaway for viewers is that if you have trouble expressing this, you almost certainly haven’t done a good job of solving the UX challenges.
  • The role you played. Did you do UX, UI, interaction design, etc.? List the role you served. If other UX or UI peers were involved, hiring managers will be looking to understand your contribution specifically. Don’t over-inflate this.
  • The software you used. Feel free to stick to the major software. This helps give the viewer an idea about the primary role you played in executing the project.
  • The platform. Is it for iOS or Android? Is it native app or a web app?
  • An informative headline. No doubt you want to include the client name, but that shouldn’t be the only way to lead a viewer into the work. You’ve probably done some impressive work for companies or startups that aren’t household names, so identifying them in a more informative way can be helpful. For example, “A New User Experience for Oklahoma’s Oldest Financial Institution” is insanely more engaging than “Client ABC” alone.
  • Noteworthy product screens and features. For major product screens and features that you want to include, write about their function and the UX and UI solutions you implemented. If you were iterating on an existing app or website, include the issues the user experience had that your solutions addressed.
  • Hard results. This information can be a challenge to get a hold of, but if you do it will certainly help. Did your user experience know-how help increase subscriptions by a tangible amount, for example? Talk about it.
  • The lessons you learned. Most projects don’t go perfectly, and that’s OK. Maybe you made a big oversight in a UX flow, but you corrected it in short order. Or maybe the takeaway is you learned what not to do. Whatever the case, hiring managers want to see how you grew as a result of a project and how you handle yourself when things get sticky.
  • Beware of isometric format. Something I’ve seen that does a website no favors is showing screens that need to be viewed in detail in isometric format — an isometric view usually works best as a general design treatment. Clearly display the work with large screenshots so viewers can see your brilliant work.
  • Iterations. Aside from wireframes, for a particular feature or interaction you can also include screenshots of past iterations that led up to your result.
  • Effective linking. If your project section is multiple pages, hiring managers really like when each project page links to the next to make it easy to navigate. Plus, this is simply good user experience. Additionally, link to the live app or website for each project where possible. If you can’t do that, try linking to the prototype.

Accessibility vibes

  • Web AIM. It’s not beautiful, but it’s dead simple to use. It even gives you compliance results for graphic objects and interface components.
  • Accessible Color Generator. This tool helps you find compliant color combinations closest to a defined set of hues. How handy is that?
  • Coolors. If you’re looking for something a bit more comprehensive, this is the place. Generate entire color palettes, then head over to the contrast checker to make out compliance.

Alright, let me put a bow on things



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Jonathan Patterson

Jonathan Patterson

Freelance Product Designer. Now: Celebrating a decade of freelance UX and UI design!